France lets in some British cargo and travelers, but huge backlog remains

Freight and passengers with a negative coronavirus test began arriving from Britain on French shores Wednesday after France relaxed a two-day blockade imposed out of concern over a new, more infectious virus variant that has isolated the U.K., stranded thousands of truck drivers and raised fears of food shortages. Reporters saw a ferry from Britain pulling into the French port of Calais before dawn, and trains carrying freight and car passengers were allowed to cross over to the Continent beneath the English Channel again. People arriving from Britain are required to have a coronavirus test capable of detecting the new variant, according to a late-night agreement reached after 48 hours of frenzied negotiations among French, British and EU authorities.

European nations and others around the world began banning travel from Britain on Sunday, a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the new, more infectious variant was responsible for most new infections surging in London and southern England and imposed tight new lockdown restrictions. The company that runs the Eurotunnel beneath the English Channel said Wednesday that truck drivers lined up on the highway leading to the English port of Dover are being tested for the coronavirus, but that it may take some time to for traffic to return to normal after the massive backup. Advertisement

On the British side of the channel, soldiers and Britain's official test-and-trace workers were being deployed for the mass testing program to ease the backlog of trucks.

A negative test result taken less than 72 hours before the journey is required for anyone entering France from Britain. British Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that about 4,000 trucks could be waiting in the southern county of Kent and urged other truckers not to head there until the backlog is cleared. It will take "a few days" to test all the drivers before they can travel to France, he said.

"Whatever the number is, whether it is 4,000 or more, it is a significant number to work through," Jenrick said.

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Calais is a major node of trade and travel between Britain and the Continent, and France had argued that the blockade was necessary in order to work out safety measures to protect European citizens. The French travel restrictions had angered and worried many in Britain, which relies heavily on its cross-channel commercial links for food at this time of year, especially for fruit and fresh produce. Dozens of other countries in Europe and beyond are continuing to bar travelers from the U.K. Japan announced Wednesday that it would reinstate its entry ban on most new arrivals from Britain.

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Eurostar passenger train traffic was also resuming from Britain to the continent Wednesday, but only for citizens of Europe's border-free zone, British citizens with EU residency and those with a special reason to come to the Continent temporarily, such as truckers.

French authorities have insisted that the blockade was based on scientific concerns and not politics, though it came amid tense last-ditch talks between Britain and the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal.

The pileup of trucks in Britain served as a glimpse of what the border could look like if no deal is struck by the Dec.

31 deadline.

France's Europe minister, speaking on BFM television Wednesday about the talks, noted that when it comes to trade, "the British side has much more dependence on Europe than the reverse."

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